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DVD: Snake Pit, The (1948)
Review Rating:   Very Good  
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20th Century Fox 
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1 (NTSC)

June 1, 2004



Genre: Drama  
A woman strives to understand the trauma that's placed her in a mental institution, and regain her sanity for a second chance at life.  



Directed by:

Anatole Litvak
Screenplay by: Frank Partos,  Millen Brand
Music by: Alfred Newman
Produced by: Anatole Litvak,  Robert Bassler

Olivia de Havilland,  Mark Stevens,  Leo Genn,  Celeste Holm,  Glenn Langan,  Helen Craig,  Leif Erickson,  Beulah Bondi,  Lee Patrick,  Howard Freeman,  Natalie Schafer,  Ruth Donnelly

Film Length: 107 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.33 :1
Black & White
Anamorphic DVD: No
Languages:   English (Mono),  English (Pseudo-Stereo),  French (Mono),  Spanish (Mono)
Subtitles:   English,  Spanish
Special Features :  

Audio Commentary by Film Historian and Author Aubrey Solomon / Fox Movietone Newsreels: "N.Y. Film Critics Honor Olivia de Havilland" (1:02) + "National Magazines Make Film Awards" (1:00) + "Showmen Honor The Snake Pit" (0:39) + "Special Film Award is Presented for The Snake Pit" (1:17) + "Motion Picture Academy Awards Film Oscars" (0:43) / Still gallery with 46 images / Theatrical trailer for "The Snake Pit" plus trailers for "All About Eve," "An Affair To Remember," "Gentleman's Agreement," "The Song of Bernadette" and "The Three Faces Of Eve"

Comments :

“The Snake Pit” won an Academy Award for Best Sound, and received Nominations for Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing.

While 20th Century Fox tackled a number of social issues during the Forties and early Fifties with great critical and audience success, “The Snake Pit” nevertheless owes a measure of gratitude to Alfred Hitchcock's “Spellbound,” in which psychoanalysis and the ‘mysteries of the mind' proved to be an attractive veneer for a standard thriller formula.

Based on the novel by Mary Jane Ward, the filmmakers had arguably a greater need to distance themselves from Hitchcock's psycho tale, and treat the trauma of the mentally ill in a docu-drama format (though symbolic dreams and cryptic imagery still proved to be an irresistible indulgence in “Snake Pit”).

Co-author (with Tony Thomas) of “The Films of Twentieth Century-Fox,” historian Aubrey Solomon does a decent job in providing concise notes on the film's production, cast sketches, and background info on the original novel and deleted scenes from early script drafts, but there's a lot of silent gaps between Solomon's otherwise thoughtful observations. What's needed is a second or third participant to balance the weight of a 107 minute commentary track, yet the film's age reinforces a unique dilemma for commentators in general: with many of the original participants long gone, the historian must partially rely on surviving documents, publicity ephemera, and extractions from published interviews and biographies. Solomon makes a fair effort to quote from surviving studio memos and original reviews, but the regular pauses mandate some remote shuttling on behalf of the viewer.

Being a prestige film that earned Oscar attention and awards from secondary critical groups, a substantial collection of newsreels were gathered for this release, and it's fun to watch de Havilland sport a gracious smile each time she's handed a trophy, plaque, or furled certificate. Sound no longer exists for the newsreel “Showmen Honor The Snake Pit,” while “Special Film Award” has stoic Fox executive Spyros Skouras amusingly emphasizing/name dropping director Litvak and studio uber-CEO Darryl F. Zanuck for their “courageous” decision to realize the film.

Though produced in 1948, “The Snake Pit” remains an engaging drama, and a unique time capsule of primitive, and sometimes brutal treatments of the mentally infirm.


© 2004 Mark R. Hasan

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